May is National Trauma Awareness month, so designated 25 years ago as a campaign for promoting road safety. However, if we think about trauma more broadly, May 2013 is a perfect time to reflect on trauma and the effects of traumatic events. In the US alone, we have endured many collective traumatic events recently. With Hurricane Sandy barely behind us, tragedies like Sandy Hook Elementary School, the Boston Marathon, and the factory explosion in Texas come readily to mind. We hardly have had time to make sense of these devastating events, when the news outlets inform us of three young women in Cleveland, held captive for over a decade. Most immediately, the tornado tragedy in Oklahoma has caused heartbreaking devastation. Internationally, the death toll for the Bangladeshi building collapse has surpassed 700, earthquakes and floods have been devastating, and ongoing warfare continues to traumatize people and communities globally.
Unfortunately, there seems to be a never-ending need for trauma counseling. We barely respond to one tragedy, when another situation, whether personal or collective, renders another person or group of people vulnerable. As a clinical mental health counselor, I have offered counseling services to trauma survivors for nearly four decades; as a counselor educator, I have offered trauma-related courses to graduate students for over two decades. However, mental health clinicians typically have not received much pre-service training specific to trauma. This is why I felt compelled to construct Trauma Counseling: Theories and Interventions. I wrote parts of the book, and I was fortunate to have contributions from colleagues with expertise in various aspects of clinical response to trauma.
Trauma Counseling: Theories and Interventions presents a comprehensive overview of various types of traumatic events, crises, and disasters that people may experience. The authors examine the lived experiences of those who have been traumatized, describe best clinical practices in responding to trauma, and offer many instructional and clinical resources to students and practitioners. Although we address the posttraumatic growth potential for trauma survivors, along with related clinical and healing issues, it occurs to me, while reflecting on recent events, that the clinical literature often ignores an important phenomenon: those who respond courageously in a moment of crisis.
I believe that as we reflect on the horrors of trauma during this month of trauma awareness, it is warranted to illuminate the people who help, the people who act with integrity during crises, the people who make difficult decisions in difficult situations. I’m thinking about ordinary people who, in the moment, respond like heroes: the Moore, Oklahoma teacher, unearthed in the rubble, her body protectively covering several small children; the teachers who shielded small children at Sandy Hook; the cowboy hat-wearing hero at the Boston Marathon, Carlos Arredondo, who stopped Jeff Bauman’s bleeding — Jeff was then hospitalized and subsequently managed to write the note that led to identifying the bombers; Charles Ramsey, who helped Amanda Berry initially, but ultimately Gina DeJesus, Michelle Knight, and a young child as well, to escape from their Cleveland “prison”; and, indeed, Amanda Berry herself, who even after more than a decade of captivity, never stopped trying to get someone to see that she needed help.
Traumatic events occur in the face of darkness, sometimes even manufactured by humans with hearts of darkness. However, in spite of such darkness, some individuals simply choose to do the right thing when confronted with another person’s tragedy. Reacting with courage is the hallmark of heroes, and many traumatic events present opportunities for the birth of heroes. So while it is important for the public to be aware of a spectrum of traumatic events, we also might ponder the power of the human spirit and the everyday heroes who emerge in many instances of tragedy.